A Travellerspoint blog

Bienvenidos a Guatemala, pt1

Kays Odyssey goes Indiana in Tikal, trecking up Tajumulco in Xela, and into thermal shock at the natural hot springs in Georginas Fuentes.....

Adios a Mexico. The shuttle bus pulls into a house which is apparently the Mexican Border Authority, we get our passports stamped and then pull up on a rio and load the gear onto la lancha. Have we crossed the border yet? Apparently not. Further up the river we disinbark la lancha to be greeted by the foreign currency exchange Guatemalan style, a man holding a wad of cash asking if we needed exchange. Rate was pretty close to the mark so we changed our Peso´s to Quetzal´s. Another man hands us an immigration tourist visa to fill out and we climb into a dusty bus and drive off down a bumpy dirt road (which we were advised we would be driving along for the next 60km).
Down the road a bit we pull into a house next to a sign that stated ¨Bienvenidos a Guatemala¨, this must be the Guatemalan Border Authority. No luggage check, no worries about fruit and veg, we pay a small fee, passports stamped and we are on the road again. A very bumpy long dusty road. For what seems like an eternity later we finally reach the end of the 60km dirt road and are on a nice paved road. Relief was short lived though as a we came to a stop where a village protest had blocked the road. Funnily enough the village was protesting because the government had promised to pave the 60km dirt road 2yrs ago and obviously never got around to it.
The bus was stopped in a line of traffic, it was searing hot and we were in the middle of no where. Up ahead we could see the villagers grouped in mass with banners, signs and planks of wood demanding that a representative from the government come and negociate. Both the Army and Policia were present, fingers on the trigger. Talking to the locals we realised that the Army had fired shots close to the protestors feet earlier on. The evidence of the bullet cartridges was scattered on the ground. Too hot in the bus we sit outside contemplating what might happen. Will we need to sleep here tonight? How long until they give up? Two and a half hours of waiting and a solution was derived. The bus company arranged for another bus to pick us up on the other side of the road block.

Once given the go ahead our bus full of gringos picked up their luggage and walked through the the middle of the protest to reach the other side of the road block. This greatly amused the locals who thought the whole thing was hilarious. Oscar was carrying a guitar and the locals must have mistaken Steve´s boards as some kind of musical instrument as they all chanted ¨lose the gringos, keep the music¨.

Once safe in the bus it was only a further 30mins drive to Flores (the jumping off point for the Tikal Ruins). A fraction further down the road from the protest we drove past an roadside accident. Somehow the Army had managed to roll a tank off an embankment at the edge of the road, there was a crane trying to pull it out as well as a lot of uniformed army personell standing around scratching their heads.

Finally we reach Flores, Oscar, Ellen, Steve and Jess stay the night next on Lago de Peten Itza as it is getting dark. Its hot and steamy and the lake looked idillic, we wanted to jump in for a swim like the locals but thought twice having seen the sewerage being pumped straight in with minimal treatment if any at all.

In the morning we have breakfast right on the lago then pack up and leave for the bus station via tuk tuk. Our very first tuk tuk ride down bumpy cobblestone streets, crammed inside with a bags and boards hanging out the sides. Once at the bus station we find a taxi driver who is willing to drive us to El Remate for a reasonable price. Hows this going to work? Four people, four bags (two of them MASSIVE - Oscar and Ellen!) and the boards?
Like throwing elephants into a tardis somehow the taxi driver managed to fit all four bags into the boot of a Camry. He then went to the store to ¨buy some rope¨for the boards and came back with rafia string and proceeded to tie the boards on in a manner that meant that we could not open the doors. All four of us, the taxi driver, all the bags and the boards tied onto the roof with string being held by Oscar and Steve we take off very slowly scraping the road at every bump. The drive took about 40mins and we stayed at a hotel in El Remate recommended by the taxi driver, Hotel Xichmal.

El Remate is a sleepy small lakeside town about a 30 min drive from the Tikal Ruins. Theres a couple of shops and resturants and a few places to stay. You can swim in the lake apparently and you can eat the fish apparently. We tried neither although it was painfully hot and we could have sacrifced a limb for a swim.

The lady owner of the Hotel Xichmal was incredibly helpful and we chatted about going to the ruins and how to get there. Then she dropped the bombshell. It costs how much to get into Tikal? 150 Quetzal? Youve got to be kidding me, thats like $26 Aud! Having calculated our expenses on the entrance fee of 50 Quetzal per person as stated in the lonely planet we found our selves 40km away from an ATM without enough cash to go to Tikal, the only reason we came out here. The lady explained that the fee had only changed in November last year and that it had caused her a loss of busines from annoyed tourists.

Ok. Decision time. We better go back into town and cash up. Steve and Oscar catch the chicken bus into Santa Elena to visit an ATM. After getting some cash Steve notices a couple of blokes scoping them out. Oscar needs to use the internet so they go inside an internet cafe for an hour or so. Emails finished and its getting late they go to the Bus Terminal to sus out a way out of Flores to the next destination after the Tikal Ruins. Oscar notices two guys following them. Steve identifies as the same guys from before. Shit. Luckily enough they realise that Steve and Oscar have seen them and they disappear.

At the bus staition, visiting the various bus companies offices the information needed was collected and it dawned upon Steve and Oscar that they were in a seedy slightly dangerous bus station and it was nearly dark. Time to split they grab some groceries and start walking towards El Remate (40km) hoping that it is not too late to grab a microbus. Meanwhile Jess and Ellen were slightly concerned that it was dark and the boys were out somwhere.

Fortunately a microbus (mini van) comes along and picks them up. Unfortunatley the 18 seater bus already had about 25 people inside. Oscar squeezed in managing to get a seat in the middle holding (squashing) the groceries. Steve got the short straw and had to stand at the back in the 20cm space between the back seat and the rear door with his back and neck bent under the roof next to another guy already in the same predicament. The whole van burst into laughter when the rear door was closed onto Steve and the mans butts, causing them to yelp and appear as though they were taking one for the team. Along the way the van stopped a couple of times and gathered a few more occupants. Steve lost count at 30 people in a 18 seater van and there was also a guy on the roof!

Back safely, its dinner time. Not much to choose from its hamberguesa and gallo o´clock. The next day we decide to sleep in and relax. In the afternoon we catch a microbus up to the Tikal Ruins. If you enter after 4.00pm your ticket is stamped so that you can enter the next day as well.

Tikal is set on a low hill above the surrounding swampy ground, in the middle of what is now a 550,000 sq km national park and contains thousands of separate ruined structures. The Mayan people settled here around 700BC. Within 200 years the Maya of Tikal had began to build stone ceremonial structures, and by 200BC a complex of buildings stood on the North side of the Acropolis. The Central area of the city occupied about 16 sq km with more than 4000 structures.
Tikal is truely magic in the golden afternoon sun and worth every Quetzal spent. Towering temple pyramids pole above the jungles green canopy to catch the sun. Howler monkeys swing noisily through the branches of ancient trees and brightly coloured parrots and toucans dart through the canopy. Tikal is home to pyramid temples rising to heights of more than 64m. But certaininly what sets this site apart is that between the plazas and partly restored temples which have been cleared of trees, you wander beneth the dense rainforest canopy.
The sunlight in the afternoon was perfect for photos casting moody shadows and giving the buildings a honey glow. Another plus is that the crowds tend to get there at opening (6.00am) then leave in the heat of the day around 1.00pm. There was only about another 8 other people there and the site being so large it felt like we were alone. After exploring the Great Plaza we climbed the Grand Temple V which is 58m tall and provides great views across the National Park and the rest of the ruins. You climb the temple up a flight of rickety wooden stairs that are so steep they are more like a ladder. Once up the top there is no barrier to stop you from plumeting to your death. We spot howler monkeys, spider monkeys, toucans and a bird which made the most bizare electro pop call. Closing time at 6.00pm so we bus it back to El Remate and grab an early night as we are going into the ruins at opening time tomorrow.
Wake up and get ready. Catch a shuttle at 5.30am and get to the ruins just after opening. We head straight through to Temple IV at the far end of the site as it is the highest point (64m) and is apparently the best place to view the sunrise. Once at the top there is no one around and no view as it is really misty. We wait for the mist to clear. Steve has another Indiana Jones moment and walks through excavation scaffolding (Steve are you sure thats a good idea? Remember we are 64m up? and proceds to climb a ladder up to the temple roof. Very scary, Steve makes it back down before the temple guard turns up for his shift. It clears a little and we see the tops of the temples rising from the jungle peeking through the mist.
We spend the day exploring the 16 sq km of excavated and partly excavated structures. As the day goes on it was really hot and humid, make sure you bring a ton of water. As soon as you think you have finished the site you round the corner to more amazing ruins. After 6hrs of Indiana action we head back ruined. Thats about enough archeological sites till Machu Pichu me thinks.
We go back to the hotel where our gear is being held and head back into Santa Elena to catch a bus on the next leg of the journey, Quetzaltenango or as the locals call it, Xela. The Santa Elena bus terminal is pretty dodgey, we wait with our gear next to an armed guard until our luxury first class bus arrives. Let the fun times begin, rum, free dinner, movies and sleep. We could not find a bus that did not go through Guatemala city but we managed to find a bus that we did not need to change bus staitons. Guatemala city is a dirty, crowded, polluted and dangerous place. The advice in the Lonely Planet about the bus staitions street we had to go through was ¨not to go there¨and that the street outside was one of the most dangerous in Guatemala City. Also conerning was the news stories about the 16 bus drivers that had been executed recently. We hid in the bus station and made it onto the next bus without concearn.
The drive from Guatemala City definatley was an eye opener. For kms the mountainous landscape had been stripped of its once lush pine forrests and replaced with scarce crops and dirt. Mudslide danger central. The road we drove along was being upgraded, the rock faces blasted and carved through by machinery, all the rubble was pushed over the edge of the mountain creating a trail of disaster. On top of that piles of dumped rubbish cascaded down the hillside and was piled in heaps at the side of the road. Some heaps on fire. This same scenery went on for kms. The scenery changed to little villiges, roadside stalls and houses. The bus grinds to a halt on the outskirts of town. Welcome to Xela.

After consulting the bible we decide that it isnt too far to walk, pile the gear on our backs and set off down the main street. Theres a hive of activity and people are lining the streets. Xela is home to a strong Mayan population, the women all wear indigious traditional clothing. The crowds of people were like a moving fuzzy rainbow with the patterned brightly coloured clothing. There was also some people dressed up in carnaval gear - whats going on here? Is it a parade? We then see a heap of young men dressed head to toe in black costumes that looked like KKK outfits, running hap hazardly down the street. Others in costume on motorcycles darting through the crowd.

Hmmm this is kinda scary, we head for the backstreets for Hostel Don Diego. On arrival we are informed that the crowd we just landed in was a political protest. Just our luck! We check in and get a really nice room on the 2nd floor with polished floor boards, two windows and a comfy bed. The shared bathrooms are pretty clean with piping hot showers and there is a shared kitchen that is very well equiped, complete with filtered water. All the downstairs rooms open onto a shared sunny courtyard perfect for lazing about with a coffee.

After paying for a few nights accom, we need to get some money out. All the ATMS are around the Parque Central where the protest is still raging on. There is definatley something slightly unnerving about taking a wad of cash out in a crowd of crazy people dressed up in black KKK outfits. It ended up being no hassle but Jess was edgey as.

Xela is a quintessential Guatemalan City. Not too big, not too small, safe enough with enough bars, eats and places to stay. It has a few tourists blow through, many stay a while and take advantage of the cheap Spainish courses, but Xela still retains its national flavour. The streets are narrow and cobblestone, lined with old buildings. There is a fab fresh food market with really cheap and delicious locally grown fruit and veg. In the covered section of the market you can buy traditional clothing and any part of an animal you desire, who feels like a goats brain, kags, hoof stew tonight? It would have been nice to show you some picks of the buzzing market but there are some places in Guatemala that you cant just pull out the camera, the market being one of them (after all our mid range camera would probably be worth more than some of the locals yearly wages).
There are a few good bars around, we frequented the Paris Royal for a cheap litro of wine and some smoking tunes by Fernando Juarez. Xela is also a great hopping off point to a myriad of climable volcanos. After much deliberation, we chose to climb Mount Tajumulco through Adrenalina Tours. Mount Tajumulco is a dormant volcano and claims the prize for being the highest point in Central America (4220m).

Adrenalina picked the 4 of us up from the hotel at 6.00am, the morning was chilly and Oscar and Ellen were on time for once! The two day tour cost 400Q each which includes a guide, camping gear and all meals. You have to bring your backpack and carry your own water, food, sleeping bag and every item of clothing you own in order not to freeze.
The shuttle ride was short lived, we are dumped at the second class bus station with our guide Rooney who is brandishing a machete (to look tough for our protection). The second class bus station consisted of a large area of ashfelt next to a shanty market. There are people selling fruit, veges and milk fresh from the goat!. After mass confusion, Rooney handed us some food and cooking stuff to carry, we climb onto a chicken bus and get ready for the ride. We all get seats, the bus pulls out of the mayham and we are on the road. What a ride, 3 people on a 2 person seat, with a couple of kids between us, isle packed all with the bus flying at lightspeed. We change buses at a lil town, while we were waiting for the next bus a local gave our stuff the eyeball, Rooney gave him the eyeball back whilst holding a machete.
Next bus and we start the hillclimb and get our first peek at Mount Tajumulco. We get off the bus at 3000m, its sunny, windy and VERY dusty. We bump into a group that had just made it down who were estatic about the whole experience. Snot and dirt over their faces they also warned us how filthy dirty and cold we were about to get.
We cross the road and head into a dirt track and start to climb. The dirt track was very steep and the dust so fine that when your foot touched the ground swirls of dust cloud would rise up and coat everything blackish - brown. Straight away you could feel the altitude - a little short of breath, if you are sitting down and get up quickly you get chronic head spins. Further up the mountain the track narrowed to a path and the vegetation changed from cleared pasture land to high altitude pine forrest. The pines are covered in a variety of mosses and lichens. We were all hot and sweaty when pushing up the mountain but as soon as you stopped the crisp air would send a chill down your spine. Ellen was the first to struggle a lil with the altitude, having to stop and catch breath, heart thumping. The climb never seemed to end, ticking off 100m altitude at a time, dragging our arses and our heavy bags up 45 degree angle rockfaces.
We stopped for lunch and had an awesome sandwich that had egg, cream chesse and the meat of a couple of animals. We added some avo and it was the bomb. The climb continued.
We reached 4000m at about 3.00pm in the arvo and set up camp in the high altitude pine forrest. Tent pitched, fire built and marshmallow sticks prepared we sink some rum oscar had lugged all the way up the mountain. As soon as the sun disappeared behind the mountain it was frikin freezing. We donned all our layers and sat around fire as Rooney the champ cooked us up a feed. Yummy soup and spagetti, more rum and fire roasted marshmallows. Its really getting cold now - thermals, jackets, beanies, gloves, every pair of socks, every tshirt you own and you can still feel the cold creeping into your skin... the air temp hits minus and the mist rolls in.
Visibility is only a few metres and it looks decidedly creepy, dark, freezing, spooky shadows from pines that look like people and a foggy mist that looks like the scene from a horror movie. A midnight wee is terrorfying. Jess sensed a bit of a high altitude headache and popped a couple of nurofens - all sweet. We all snuggle up in the 4 man tent (5 people) which was being efficiently heated by Ellens arse which was in a spot of bother and releasing the fury every couple of minutes. We all had an ok sleep on the rock hard freezing ground except for Steve. Altitude sickness had kicked in, he couldn't sleep, shallow breathing, accellerated heart rate (pounding), chronic headache...shit scared... all the while listening to the constant emmisions of Ellens trombome bum for 2.5 hours. He finnally fell asleep after knecking several pain killers only to be awaken at 4.00am for the final part of the accent.
OH MY GOD ITS FREEZING. Dark. Some confusion as there is another group who camped searching the forrest in the dark for their guide. They find him huddled on the ground in the cold. He had removed himself from the tent as he had food poisoning and had followed through in his pants and called to the dinosaurs all night. Sick as a dog in the shitest place to have tap arse/mouth. The other group joins us in the dark and we follow the guide into darkness. We brought 2 torches, the svenskins didnt have one so we surrended one of ours. The other group was not as well prepared, one torch between 3 climbing up a volcano in the pitch black darkness... Guatemalan saftey first.
The icey wind bit at our cheeks, streams of snot ran down our faces as we smashed the back end out of the remaining 220m. Up through the clouds. Close to the top with no pines to block the wind its minus 7 wind chill. The wind rips through your joggers and our toes are in a world of pain. Really misty at the summit unbearably cold and amazing. The sun peeks over the clouds but provides no warmth. The clouds shift and reveals pockets of views but overall it is too cloudy to see into Mex and El Salvador. Everyone is frozen we begin the decent.
On the way down we pass Maya who are climbing to the top to prey. Here we are absolutley freezing in a world of pain and the locals are climbing up in traditional dress - falda (skirt), blouse, bath towel for warmth and open toed heeled sandles. WTF?
Back down to 4000m we have some rank cappacino flavoured porridge for brekkie, pack up the gear and head down the hill. It was sunny and warm at the campsite at 4000m but as soon as we walked down through the clouds the weather had changed. Cold and misty, the landscape looks completely different to on the way up. Amazing views on the way down, breathtaking landscape (nice change from breath taking altitude). We get down the bottom after a few slide outs, hard to go down dusty steep slopes knees constantly locked. We pass the guide that had double donut fury passed out on the side of the track, he was slowly making his way down...world of stinky pain.
We wait for yonks for the bus back... when it arrives it is PACKED. We all stand, then squish into seats. Jess got offered a seat next to an old man and a little boy. The boy happened to be eating peanuts (Jess allergic) and he was mashing his grubby peanut mits all over her. To boot the little darling had pink eye and was covered in rashes. Freaked out Jess jumped at the opportunity to offer an elderly lady her seat and scored one right up the front next to the driver. Speedo not working. Check. Odometre not working. Check. Fuel gauge not working. Check. The bus flies around the narrow roads that snake down the mountian nearly avoiding a few collisions. Us tourists look rather concerned, if not a tad frightened. The locals look as through the experience is nothing out of the ordinary. The bus driver honks the horn long and loud to announce to other drivers that he is going to fly round a blind corner on the wrong side of the road at 80km/h.

We make it back in one peice, absolutly filthy and exhausted. The next day after a sleep in we catch a shuttle to the natural hot springs Georginas Fuentes for a lil R&R. The drive to the springs reveals the urban sprawl of Xela and the surrounding cleared steep terrain. The weather is a bit cooler, the sky filled with fog. As we near the springs the vegetation turns tropical shrouded in mist. Once entry was payed we were in for a bit of a shock. The pristine natural springs we had in our minds resembled more of a human soup with an ajoining bar and restaurant which was pumping out corny 80s relaxation music.

Not game enough to get amongst it we chill and sip a few beers. As the afternoon goes by the pool empties and we gain enough courage to jump in. After all if you block the bar out the setting is magic. The spring seeps out of a natural rock face to form an aqua pool which is lined with tropical vegetation. Steam spirals up through the air to mix in with the mist. The water is to die for. Steve thinks he is all tough and lies in the water up to his neck and gets a mild case of thermal shock.
It was even barrelling at the springs!!!!!!!!
After an hour or so of lounging in the water we catch the shuttle back. Now foggier than before the bus narrowly misses buses and bovines on the narrow road back to town.

With so much guat gold we overloaded travellerspoint and had to cut Guatemala into 2 parts - so for more Guat adventures see pt2!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Posted by jessnsteve 16:04 Archived in Guatemala Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Oaxaca City & Palenque, Mexico

Back on the taco train, hello mezcal o´clock, ruins & jungle time!

sunny 32 °C

OK, leaving Puerto Escondido, an uneasy feeling kicks in when we go to buy the bus tickets to travel to Oaxaca City. 1st class v 2nd class? Sunny v red eye run?? An hr later 1st class is the choice due to robbery apparently rife on 2nd class buses, which also takes a poorly paved scary mountain road to Oaxaca. The 1st class bus takes a longer route on well paved hwys.

The fun and games begin on Hwy 200 - the most notorious hwy in Mex for hwy robbery. The bus tears around the corners on the wrong side of the road every bend as we snake around the hills - Travelcalm o´clock for J. We meet a couple from Aus, Robbie was born in Chile and raised in Sydney and he spoke excellent Spainish. It was a good reminder of home as his accent and the way he spoke was exactly like Juan!

Out of the bends now the bus driver floors it. BANG, a loud noise comes from underneath the bus and the bus stops in the middle of the road. We ask the bus driver whats going on and he replys, I hit something and now the bus does not work. The bus driver turns the bus off, takes his bus company shirt off, tweaks around under the bus for 5 mins and without saying another word, starts walking along the road and disapears into the heat mirage with 2 men that were just walking by at the same time we broke down. WTF!?!?

Ok. Thats just great. We are in the middle of no where, surrounded by dessert on the most notorious HWY in Mexico. Slightly concerned would be an understatement! Robbie and his girl hail a cab to the next town which is a couple of hours away so they dont miss their connect bus. Damn there goes our interpreter. To make matters worse the Mexicans on the bus were nervous and bailing in taxis! If the locals are freaking out it usually isnt a good sign right? Just 3 others and us left in the heat with the broken bus, hmmmm, interesting situation. MIERDA!

YEAH BABY! Phew! After 15 mins of fretting a second class bus appears in the distant heat waves, stops, and gives us a lift to the next town. So glad we didnt catch the night bus, if that had occured during the night, yeah, who knows what could have happened. At the next town we catch a 1st class bus the rest of the way to Oaxaca. Its dusk when we arrive after 8 hours of travel. A short, crazy, cab ride and we arrive to the Hostel Santa Isabel.

Hostel Santa Isabel is a stones throw from the centre of town, we stayed in a private room that was nice and comfortable on the 2nd floor for 180 peso a night - the cheapest in town. The Hostel has dorms, kitchen facilities, shared bathrooms, two bright leafy courtyards and a bar in the front. The place has a friendly atmosphere and the best breakfast in the world for 20 peso - cafe, Huevos a la mexicana con frijoles, tortillas y grande plata fruta. Bargain!! We meet a couple, Oscar from Venezuela/Denmark and Ellen from Sweeden/Denmark, who had stayed in Oaxaca for a lil so they had all sorts of useful info to share.
Oaxaca is a mountain city, 1550m elevation with a population of 263,000. The heart of the city is colonial with narrow streets, liberally sprinkled with fine, old stone buildings. The main shady plaza, Zocalo, is lined with cafes and resturants and shadowed by many grand old buildings and an impressive church. Like all other Mexican towns we have visited, the locals love to hang out in the plaza under shadey enormous trees with their families.
Oaxaca has a thriving artesian community. Folk art handicrafts are for sale at the markets, specialties being loom woven blankets rugs and tapestries, hand embroidered traditional clothing, fine black pottery and hard carved brightly painted wooden fantasy animals called alebrijes. Incredible cheap shopping!
After a stroll around town we hired a couple of mountain bikes for the next day. The ride back from the bike shop was interesting, narrow one way streets, dark and heaps of traffic. Luckily the traffic in Oaxaca is pretty dense so the speed of the cars is pretty slow and the motorists are somewhat patient and curteous to bike riders. There was a few scarey moments though, extremely narrow streets, buses everywhere and cars drive side by side down a street really designed for one car, barely a bees dick between them.

Early rise and we are negotiating 7am peak hour traffic on our way to Monte Alban, a Zapotec Ruin first occupied around 500 BC located on a flattened hilltop 400m above the valley 10km from the hostel. Armed with a photocopied map with the route for a 45km ride marked in highlighter we ride out of the city with weaving traffic, lanes disappearing and reappearing. Dammit 10 mins in and Jess gets a flat! We change the tyre then begin the 400m accent up to the ruins on a windy mountain road with buses flying down it. Due to the flat we arrive a bit after opening time, sweaty and hot from the intense hill climb. Temps were high during the day about 30 degrees dry heat and cool at night. Felt amazing to conquer the hill on the bike although it did tear a new shpank in us....
Locked the bikes up and then climbed the stairs up into the ruins, ouch my legs. The ruins are amazing, the large site had a grande plaza, pyramid temples (damn more stairs, they didnt make life easy for themselves either, for little people they made really steep, big stairs) and tombas all with 360 degree views of the surrounding Valley Centrales.
After checking out the on site museum on the way out we jump on the bikes to continue the mystery tour. Damn. Another flat. #2! The glass wasn´t removed properly first time (GOOD ONE STEVE!) so we fix it again and repair the tube.

Back on the road - yay downhill! We head down a steep dirt road towards a little villiage that makes the alebrijes. Steve almost looses it round a bend at 30km on gravel but holds it together like a champ. Jess notices another flat. Trifector! Steve was so happy.....Steve´s repair job was dodgey (just like his surfboard repairs) so we change the tyre with the last spare tube in the kit with 35km to go. We follow the instructions on the map and manage to find the village even through there are dirt roads branching off everywhere and our highlighter marked instructions are a lil vague. Jess checks out the locals making the alebrijes and buys a lil red coyote. We continue riding through the country side along meandering dirt roads through rural areas, past crops, cemeteries and little villages.
A shop is spotted and we pull over for some tacos, tamales and coconut juice for lunch - yum! We gave em a tip, they were shell shocked! Back on the road and we complete the 45km track and land back in Oaxaca for the afternoon peak traffic. On the outskirts of town we crossed a six lane intersection that was just plain scarey, cars and buses flying in ever which direction horns honking. Somehow we just cruised across and fluked a path through the city straight to our hotel. How did we manage that? P3220061.jpg

Dinner time after a big day and Steve breaks the taco munching record - smashes 11 tacos with apparently room to spare?!!!

Whist on the topic of food Oaxaca had many different culinary delights to savour. Right out the front of the Hostel there a street vendor that sells the best empanadas ever. An empanada is a giant fresh pressed doughey tortilla filled with salsa, oaxacan string cheese and chicken, folded together and cooked on a coal heated hot plate.
Also available are many dishes that have a varitey of Mole sauces, a chilli based spiced chocolate sauce usually served with meat. Drinking chocolate is also a favorite and the best I have ever tasted. Delicous fresh ground cocoa beans with cinnamin spice. And did we mention Mezcal? Mezcal is made in the Valley Centrales from the maguey plant, its similar in taste to tequilla but not as harsh and a whole lot easier to drink. That and you can get 700mls of it for $6.00 AUD! Cheers to that! Aw and they also had donuts to Steves delight....
Oaxaca has an enormous labirynth of a mercado to check out. If you look long enough, you can find almost anything here. Each product has a section to itself and their overwhelming quantities of fruit, veges, baked goods, grains and spices.
Another sight not to miss is the Museo de las Culturas de Oaxaca which is housed in a magnificent monastry building adjoining the Iglesia de Santa Domingo (an amazingly ornate church). The museum empathsises the direct linage between Oaxacas pre hispanic and contemporary indiginous cultures, illustrating continuity in areas such as crafts, medicine, food, drink and music. A highlight is the treasures from tumba 7 Monte Alban. The tomb boasted a hoard of beautifully worked silverand gold, turquoise, coral, jade, amber, jet, pearls, crystal goblets and a skull covered in turquoise.
These two actually reminded us of Gaz and Pete!! Dergh.
On our last day in Oaxaca we decided to visit the town of El Tule to see the largest biomass in the world - a REALLY big old tree. We tried to find the 2nd class bus to El Tule but caught a collectivo cab to El Tule instead - right price at 8 peso por persona. It wasnt long before we knew what the word "collectivo" meant and why it was only 8 peso. We stopped at every bus stop until it was not humanly possible to cram any more humans into a 5 seat toyota Corrola. I think the final humano count was 9! AND the car was reaching 100km in a 60 zone WHAT SPEAD LIMIT!!!!! Once at El Tule we pile out of the car and are confronted with the giant tree that dwarfs the town and the church it grows next to. The tree is a ahuehuete (a type of cypress), measures 58m around, 42m high and is reckoned to be somewhere between 2000yrs and 3000yrs old.
Time to move on but where to next? We split on a night bus from Oaxaca to San Cristobal de la Casas. Mezcal and strawberry doughnuts 4 dinner, yep great combo, winding mountain roads, travelcalm is required and then sleep. As we disembark from the bus we are handed a card that stated "Welcome to San Cristobal, Do not talk to strangers and for your own saftey only accept authorised accommodation". Hmmmm maybe we should go straight to Palenque, that and it is freezing in San Cristobal! While we were waiting for the bus to Palenque we bump into a tourist from Norway who had had a rough night and a few bad Mexico experiences. The night before he had been punched up big time by a local in his hostel (apparently unprovoked, even though he smelt very rummy), he was then kicked out and slept on the street. He also mentioned that the accomodation he stayed in at Tulum was shot at in a drive by!!?? I guess everyone has a different experience in Mex, ours was great - 10/10, and generally you can avoid danger by a positive attitude and a lil common sense. The americans in california will tell you otherwise though........

12.00pm - wheres the bus? We talk to a local lady and the bus staition staff and the bus is running late due to a villiage protest that has blocked a road because the government is not providing electricity. The bus arrives and we leave at 12.40pm and are going on the long route to Palenque due to avoid the protest. As we decend from San Cristobal the bus winds through the mountains, the vegetation turns to jungle and irredecent green grass - this area recieves the highest rainfall in Mexico. High rainfall and mountains cleared of vegetation for impractical pasture land results in large sections of the road being washed away (a slow and bumpy ride). What seems like an eternity later (along the shankiest dirt roads in a coach!) we arrive in Palenque at dusk. We are in jungle country now, hot and steamy!

We stay in town for the night at the Posada Toucan, which had a pet toucan "Fichi"(crazy lil bird who was quite the character). The next morning we had out into the El Panchan jungle to stay a bit closer to the Palenque Ruins.
El Panchan is a chilled out community set in a patch of dense rainforest home to a bohemian bunch of hippies, wanderers, archeologists and anthropologists. El Panchan has a couple of resturants and a heap of jungle cabana style accomodation dotted throughout the property inbetween the meandering streams. Somehow we manage to score the best cabana ever, chatos cabana liebra, located near the bottom of the property in an intimate jungle cloaked setting. Whats going on here? Middle of jungle, cheap 200 peso accom thats so nice it could be a honeymoon pad! Immaculate bathroom, comfy bed, tiled floors, balcony, air con, clean crisp white towels, flower arrangement - this must be paradise!
Accross the path we meet John, a stone carving artist, who has been living in El Panchan on and off for years. John was minding the house of Alonzo Mendez, one of the artists for the archeologists who excavated the Palenque ruins. John explained a few things about the history of the Palenque ruins and let us know that we were staying in the original house built for the acheologists many years ago. After a wander around El Panchan we finally got our bearings in this maze of a place. A stroll though the jungle paths revealed our first encounter with howling monkeys (which really should be renamed roaring monkeys - the sound is like an elephant sized lion!!), humming birds, butterflies, toucans and a mass of jungle flora. A mini puma like cat was also spotted jumping through the canopy. Yep this is amazing. We saw two familar faces staring at an iguana in the bush - WHAT, we reunite with Oscar and Ellen we met in Oaxaca! The crazy cats that they are!
El Panchan is a lot of jungle paradise fun. Don Muchos restuarant serves up a delicous cheap meal and a mean cocktail - hence we pretty much ate lunch and dinner there most days, and partied most nights. At dinner time they have cracking live music everynight, lots of local acts - acoustic guitar with hand percussion and 8 piece band traditional South American influenced tunes. Steve took a vid of this bongo player going nuts but we are having trouble loading it, stay tuned.....
We rose early the next day and walked from El Panchan a few k´s to the Palenque ruins for opening time 8.00am. The road leads uphill to the ruins through national park jungle with the roar of the howling monkeys echoing through the valley. ¨Palenque was first occupied around 100BC, and flourished from around AD 630 to AD740. The city rose to prominence under the ruler Pakal (615-683AD). The ruins stand at the precise point where the first hills rise out of the Gulf Coast plain, and the dense jungle covering these hills forms an evocative backdrop of Palenque´s exquisite Maya architecture. Hundreds of buildings are spead accross 15 sq km and everything was built without metal tools, pack animals or the wheel¨.
Once up to the top entrance you walk up some stairs to be confronted with the sites most magnificent temples rising out of the jungle. The temple of the Skull, the Temple of the Red Queen and the Temple of Inscriptions all stand in añ intimidating mass of stone stepped pyramids, all having entrances at the top to the tombs and temple passage ways. We poke around in the passage ways of the Red Queens Tomb and frighten a few bats that flee their positions on the tombs ceiling closely missing our heads. Unfortunatley the Temple of Inscriptions (King Pakal´s Tomb) is now closed to visitors due to the damage from the humidity exuded by humano breath.
Wandering through the ruins we bump into Oscar and Ellen and we decide to explore together. In El Palacio, a large structure divide by a maze of corridors, passage ways and rooms, Steve spotted a poorly secured, unlocked trapdoor and couldnt help himself. The theme from Indiana Jones instantly sprang to mind (and remains the theme song/whistle for quite some time.....) as Steve strapped on the head light, glanced around to check no one was watching and disappeared down the stairs into the darkness. Jess followed down a winding stair case to a couple of rooms below. You could just imagine a big boulder hurling down one of the corridors or a statue coming to life and caseing us! No statue just some bats and we climb back out to see an angry guard blowing a whistle at us. Whoops, we pretend not to understand any spainish and run off like naughty kids.
Very hot and sweaty we explore more steep temples then wander up a path into the jungle, Steves idea, apparently there should be some temple...soon. 20mins incline later we have walked up the mountain behind Palenque and its kinda spooky, no longer can you hear the voices of the tourists in the ruins, ónly distant howler monkeys, some spooky whistles, and an eery silence. Scared we would meet a man with machete demanding our camera, valuables and/or our schvank we head back down the mountain to the ruins - so much more to explore. You can see the hill in the background of this photo.....it went for ever!
All the way up.......
And all the way down....
Back in Indiana Jones mode we explore the rest of the site, climbing pyramids and walking through dark passage ways to rooms within structures. That would have to be one of the most amazing things about Palenque, the fact that you are allowed to walk through the structures, passageways and hidden rooms.
6 hours later, exhausted we walk back to El Panchan. What time is it - Party time.
We all have dinner at Don Muchos and take advantage of the cheap yummy cocktails - they do a mean pina colada. After some live music the local hippies put on a fire show. Oscar being particularly brave lit his cigarete off a flaming fire stick when offered (got any eye brows left?). A good show, although sitting up the front wasnt the wisest idea, especially when one of the hippies looked rather out of it and dropped his fire stick quite frequently. Don Muchos about to shut we notice an ¨invitation¨ that has been left on our table. The spanglish was quite amusing ¨He/she invites you to party...We located 200m El Panchan.... music and drinks... set until down. Lets go...hmmm where is it? 200m N S E W? The Indiana Jones theme comes out again.

We ask a few people who tell us it is down the main road inside the National Park. We walk out onto the main road from El Panchan and stare down the road that disappears into pitch black darkness, jungle either side. Should we really walk down there? We were told that you shouldnt even drive down this road at night because of muggings so maybe walking isnt such a good idea, after all, theres only 4 of us. After a while standing at the entrance to El Panchan 2 blokes walk out who also want to go to the mystery party ¨set until down¨. Ok 6 people sounds safer, lets go! We walk into the darkness, alot further than 200m armed with little blue cups of rum and a flashlight following the sound of music until we find a bar with a few people, it seems friendly enough lets have a drink! Good fun and we then make it back safely giggling the whole way.

Time to leave El Panchan, if we stay here any longer we risk turning into tripped out jungle hippies. We get up early and catch a shuttle to cross the border into Guatamala with Oscar and Ellen (new travel buddies with bonus spanish translator WOOOHOOO!). And that wraps up Mexico folks. Which leads us to:

Heres a few things we have learnt from Mexico, which may be of use back home...........

1). You really don´t need to use so much toilet paper!! As a result of living in fear of blocking the overloaded sewerage system/toilets, and also not wanting to contribute to the festering pile of poo stained paper in the bin next to the loo, we realised that you can get by with only using a square or two. REALLY!

2). Use your vehicle horn much more often. It is now clear that in Australia we do not utilse the humble car horn no where near enough! The horn can be used for a myriad of purposes, some examples are listed below:
-Saying hello to all your mates or anyone that drives a similar vehicle (a quick bimp)
-Thanking a driver for letting you over take (a few rapid quick bimps)
-Sticking it up the person in front who swerves and does not let you overtake (long bimp)
-A voice to vent your frustration with the traffic grid lock, and/or the world (several long bimps until a car moves)
-And most importantly, to notify other drivers that you are going to drive around a blind corner at 80km on the opposite side of the road (mix of rapid quick and long bimps for 5 seconds).

3). Cement should not just be limited for the use of building construction. The Mexicans have proven that cement is a very diverse material that can be utilized for a range of home decor projects including bed bases, tables and chairs, vainities, shelves and cupboards and my favorite - fake tiled floor by dropping a rope for the tile outline effect. Add a few coats of paint, any colour under the sun will do and voila you have furniture that will last forever, at a fraction of the price and you will never have to waste time re-arranging furniture as its now permanent!

4). Although you do have to be careful, Mexico is no where near as dangerous as most Americans will have you believe:)

PS: check out the photo gallery, loads of photos not included in the blog!


Posted by jessnsteve 16:37 Archived in Mexico Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Central Pacific & Oaxaca Coast, Mexico

Mazatlan to Puerto Escondido - spanglish, sun and surf.

sunny 27 °C

We arrived at the La Paz ferry terminal with plenty of time to spare, bought our tickets for 800 peso each and waited...waited...waited. Time to board and we attempt to check our luggage in as we had seen the passengers of the previous ferry do. Some confusion followed, an exchange of spanglish and interpretation of hand gestures we realised that the passenger ferry docked next to the terminal was not ours and that we were to carry our baggage to the cargo ferry further down the dock that was currently being loaded with semi traillers (ahhhh so thats why the tickets were 400 peso less than the others).
Entry to the ferry was timed between semi trailers, down the vehicle ramp with all the gear, then up a narrow passage way with all the gear, then up several narrow flights of stairs with all the gear. Knackered! We actually had to stop and help a few people that had packed their kitchen sink and could not make it up the stairs without aid. Once on the upper deck we wander around aimlessly trying to determine where we are supposed to sit for the next 18hrs - on the deck? Can we sit right on the very top where it says high voltage no entry with skull and cross bones?? Great view but not the best idea as ferry man looks angrily at us shaking his head as we descend the ladder to the area we were allowed to be in! Anyway, the passenger room was finally located and comprised of a long narrow room with approx 70 seats, 2 TV´s playing badly dubbed spanish 80´s flicks and bathroom facilities.

The ferry about to leave and the passenger room fills with an influx of truck drivers who have finished securing their vehicles. We all get a few looks, they all stand around in a circle laughing at us and a few sly remarks were uttered that none of us could interpret - probably better that way!

The ferry was on its way, it did not take long for us to realise that the decision to sit near the toilet was not wise. As with most toilets in Mexico, it is expected that you do not flush any toilet paper as the sewerage treatment cannot handle the extra volume. It is expected that all used toilet paper is placed in the bin next to the toilet. You can imagine the stench after a couple of truckies pumped some number 2´s........RANK I TELL YOU!!!!

The stench of the passenger cabin too much to handle we catch the sunset from the deck and meet a couple of Canadians, Jordy and Chris, who are heading south down the Pacific Coast on a surf trip. Dinner is served in the kitchen - pescado, refried beads, hot sauce and tortillas. Apparently we cop a grilling from the truck drivers in the kitchen, Jordy understood the majority of it as his spanglish was much more advanced than ours.
Time to sleep - the stench of the cabin so intense that choking on your vomit during your sleep could be a possibility. We decide to sleep on the deck in the board bag with our sleeping bags. We drift off to sleep star gazing. This one shooting star was just insane - bright gold and exploded at the end rather than just fading out. You are supose to make a wish when you see a shooting star right? We awake wet from rain in the middle of a thick fog. Welcome to Mazatlan.
Chris and Anita line up a ride with the Canadians so we quickly say our goodbyes. After 5 mins of rubber necking trying to determine which way was north and what street we turn into we get directions from a local corner store and walk a couple of km from the ferry to Hotel Mexico (Wafe, it was a carbon copy of - WHICH WAY TO BOOMERANG!?). The hotel we stay at, appropriately named Hotel Mexico, is located a couple of blocks back from the beach (around abouts where the purple and blue building are next to each other in photo below) on a main road which leads to downtown Centro Historial District. Across the road there is a row of about 8 florist shops that appeared to trade 24 hours a day - they had puppies made of carnations? Our room is basic but comfortable with a decor that only a mexican would think of - bottle green, magenta, sky blue and pink.
After consulting the bible (lonely planet) we wander to the Centro Historic District to enrol in a spainish course at the Cetro de Idiomas. The course runs Monday to Friday for 5 hrs a day. The course administrator Dixie is incredibly helpful and gives us a heap of info about Mazatlan and its surrounds. We are taught by the fastidious Ucciel and the melodramatic Gloria. We enjoyed the whole experience however there were several moments of brain overload and it was challenging to say the least. The teaching methods were effective although a little frustrating at times. The end product being that our spanglish improved dramatically, i.e. we could count past ten and new the days of the week and even the months of the year!! Money well spent.

Mazatlan is a large port city with a population of 328,000 spread over a fairly large area. There are several swimming and surfing beaches, a tourist area called "the Golden Zone" (see photo below where tip of land nears the islands, its like the wanky area with all the ricos gringos - we did not spend time there), a long ocean side boardwalk with tacky stupendious monumentous every 50m and a charming Centro Historical Distirct. In Centrol Historical the attractive buildings are of colonial style, many dating from the 1800´s. The narrow cobble stone streets lead to tree lined plazuelas that are abuzz with art galleries, cafes and resturants.
The Teatro Angela Peralta was amazing to see. Originally built in the 1860´s it has been recently restored after years of neglect. You can wander through and check it out without a tourguide. There is an intimate auditorium with three stacked balconies of ornate carved wood and wrought iron. We explored dark trap door passageways backstage (steve the pathfinder with headlight torch on and all!) and climbed up onto the catwalk some 30m above the stage - are you sure we are allowed to do this? There is also a good archeological museum to check out as well as an impressive cathedral. On a couple of nights there was also a live classical guitar performance which we followed up with cervezas in a traditional style saloon.
Down from Centro Historical there is a massive mercado with every type of food you could imagine as well as some dubious hygine and meat practices - watch the carcass - is that where last nights taco came from? Down from the mercado there was a streetside seafood market which consisted of fish, many diff sized prawns, and octopus in large buckets with ice under an umbrella in an attempt to slow down the effects of the blazing sun.

Steve got a couple of waves at a break called Cannons (sorry boys, no action shots again, but break was directly behind large building being constructed in photo below, bout 3mins from hotel, does that count as a surf shot??). Left hand reef break right next to the old fort, a lil small at 2ft but perfect indo shaped walls running for 50m. On the beach we met an aussie, Keith, who is living and working in Mazatlan. Keith gave us a heap of info about Mazatlan and Mex and explained a few things we had been wandering about. Like why were there copious amounts, and various types, of armed police?
That morning we had seen two army jeeps with 3 army personel on the back. All were wearing gloves, balaclavas, fingers wrapped around the trigger, including one with a massive rambo´ style gun mounted to the jeeps roof with a belt of ammunition to the floor of the vehicle, the other two holding menicing looking machine guns. We had also seen a heap of other police in Mazatlan. Keith explained that there were 5 different types of police that would all attend investigations - Transitos, Municipalis, Federalis, Army and Special Service. This is an effort to fight corruption - the idea being that it would be difficult for an individual or group to behave corruptly as it would be hard to determine who was corrupt/not corrupt of all the sections of law enforcment. The amount of police activity was due to the fact that the major rival drug cartel king pins are of the state of Sinaloa, more specifically Mazatlan. Be nice to man with gun, be very nice to man with big rambo gun!

Despite the high police precence, or maybe because of, Mazatlan was a friendly and safe place. The people are incredibly helpful with directions if you have a stab at spanglish and they are even more friendly once they find out that you are not American "No No Senor, Nosotros somos de Australia, Si? Si! Da kangaroo! And we start bouncing around doing our best impersination of skippy in his prime! Once they find out you are Australian they then laugh and also impersonate kangaroos and/or ask you if it is a beautiful big island. The locals appeared to enjoy life much more than in previous locations with many spending time on the beach and parks and utilising the ocean fron boardwalk. Definately the most exercise we had seen any mexicans do with many running, roller blading, walking, utilizing the beach front adult monkey bars, swimming and doing all manor of strange exercises which looked like the pretense to a serious injury.

Last day in Mazatlan is Jess´s birthday - time to party. Last lesson of espanol was made all time when Dixie showed up with a massive cake and we all sang the Mexican version of happy birthday in spanglish. Steve gave Jess a rose from the 24hr florist - smooth operator. We grabbed some prawns from the seafood market with Jim, a friend from Hotel Mexico, then headed to a local bar called Dunia´s. At the bar they prepared and cooked the prawns el diablo. Prawns were good, cervezas excellent and we had tunes as well - a local 9 piece mexican brass band that had one volume - LOUD! On that note if you are planning to travel to Mex and you enjoy your sleep, take ear plugs because they definately know how to party through all hours of the night no matter how small the town is that you are in.
After prawns and cervezas its back to the ranch for celebratory tequila. Jim is amused at how quick we Aussies can put a few down the hatch. We eat some chips called Racheros and we all break out in a rash from an allergic reaction. Ah who cares another round of tequilas. Sleep in. Oh oh. Ouch my head. Sleep in. Shouldnt we be getting on a bus soon? Sleep in. Worst hangover in the history of jessnstevekind. Was it the cervezas? prawns? rank allergic reaction chips? Tequila? All of the above - tick! We slowly get up heads thumping and pack our bags. Keith turns up out of the blue and offers us a tour to a lookout over Mazatlan and a lift to the bus station. Thanks Mate!Aussie LEGEND!

Finally. Gaz - what happened to teaching bro? You have a secret bottle shop franchise in Mazatlan I see??
Linda and Suri - You branching out into the healthy soy alternatives ey!
And thats Mazatlan.

We take a 4 hr 1st class bus to Tepic on TAP bus (not to be confused with the TAP arse suffered from previous nights shananagans - halapeno donut fury youch!). The bus system in Mexico kicks butt over the buses at home and the 1st class buses are comfy as, they are massive with only 30 reclining seats and economical. From Tepic to San Blas we take a 2nd class bus. Packed to the brim Steve offers his seat and sits on the floor. After stopping at every single shack at the side of the road we arrive in the dark 2 hours later than we expected. Insect repellant was applied on arrival as we were warned that the bugs here crave human flesh, will eat you alive and then fly off with your skeleton. We walk a couple of kms with the gear to the beach to find a cabana - all booked. DOH! We huff n puff back into town and stay at a cute family run joint with a pet 15yr old pelican who was adopted after a mangled wing incident.
Hotel Morelos is a very nice budget option, leafy courtyard, kitchen facilities and rooms with bathroom, and TV. San Blas plazuela is lively in the evenings with all the local familys hanging out, eating and drinking. The plaza has a token water feature with no water, trees full of birds and lined with many options to consume tacos and cervezas. San blas beach is lined with sandy resturants and locals love to soak up the sun on the weekends, the whole place has that summer holiday feel.
The fort over looking the town is a great view point to get your bearings and get an aerial view of the two estuarys that flank San Blas. Steve like an excited kiddie was standing on a wall taking some photos and was promptly told to get down by man with gun. Be nice to, and obey, man with gun.
With no swell on the radar and none of the breaks working we go on a tour up an estuary to La Tovara Spring with our guide, Edwardo. Champion bloke we teach each other spanish/english. We depart at sunrise and spot a range of wildlife - hundreds of species of birds (many to fast to take a photo of!), cocrodillio, iguana, fish and many species of flora. The boat glided quietly through narrow murky mangrove passages to jungle flanked streams of crystal clear warm fresh water. We stopped at the fresh water spring for a swim, thankfully there was an enclosed area with a cocrodillo proof net.
Off to Rio Nexpa the next day we attept to have a good nights sleep. Unfortunately we had cats fighting, and a drunken man singing, outside our window ALL NIGHT!

Bus left San Blas at 7.30 (Jess still packing bags at 7.10 in true Jacobs style!) and we were on our way to Manzinillo. Changed bus at Manzinillio and shot through to Caleta de Campos. The bus trip was crazy, again, and we were in transit for 24hrs total. The trip from Manzinillio to Caleta took 2 hours extra then expected and it was dark. There were plenty of moments when you would wake up from banging your melon on the window half asleep with the bus speeding around corners in the middle of nowhere wondering if you had missed the stop. It was still dark when we arrived and Caleta was like a ghost town. But then a taxi turns up out of nowhere and 5 mins down the road we arrive to our final destination - Rio Nexpa.

Rio Nexpa is a small isolated surf community situated at a river mouth. There is a world class left hand point break that runs for 300m, maybe even longer. The beach is lined with small cabana style accomadation, there is 3 shops that between them have everything you could need during the visit, and a few resturants too (Smoothies and pescado dishes at Chichos rock!).

We managed to score an awesome two story thatch roof, beachfront cabana (now I really mean beachfront - right on the sand!) which had a private bathroom and kitchen located pretty close to the point. The upstairs was getting renovated but we still used it as our surf viewing, cerveza consuming platform. A couple, Ollie and Lia from nrth California, pulled up and camped near our cabana and we now had neighbours and new friends.
Surf was pupming so no time wasted Steve was out there.
When we arrived the surf was 2-3ft, had a bit of the wonk in it but looked smashable and was supa fun for a first day! The next day was 4ft and going off! Nice barrell sections (not really square but round enough) with wally down the line sections in between.........
Even with the cabana right on the beach our zoom wasn´t enough, especially with low light during early morns. This barrell on the inside was Steve´s 5th on the one wave......
The wave was breaking super long. It was barrell, then top turn, then barrell, then speed burn, floater, then barrell, then floater, then cutback, then barrell.....bla bla bla 200-300m later....you get the drill.
The 3rd day was 4-6ft, yep and slightly more pumping than previous day, and by the 4th day it had built up to peak at 8ft. Steve managed up to 3-4 sessions at 2-4 hours each per day. Usually first or second in the water and last out. The dawn patrol was groomed with a chilly offshore blowing down through the valley. Sessions in the middle of the day were the best. They were either really light offshore, total glass offs, and then really light onshore. If you timed it right you got all three conditions in the one session. The onshore would pick up pretty strong in the afternoon but it was still surfable and not as crowded. Jess and Lia chilled on the beach while the boys surfed, Jess pulled out some core training moves and Lia in return gave a couple of lessons on fire twirling and belydancing.
6-8ft day......
Da girls...
Sunset Cervesas........
Of a night time we had massive cook ups in the cabana and beach fires that often ended in tequilla showdowns and fire twirling to djembe rhythms.
View sur along the point..
View norte down the beach.....

Rio Nexpa was paradise. Full of surfers from around the world, maybe a little bit too full of surfers for the first swell of the season, and had a really friendly vibe.

Time to move on we catch a bus from Caleta to Lazaro Cardenas. Then Lazaro Cardenas to Acapulco. Then Acapulco to Puerto Escondido. In transit for nearly 24hours again.
Turn up to Puerto and find a sweet place to stay at - Edda´s Cabanas. The room was basic but sizey and clean with a private bathroom, porch, palm trees and our own personal hammock.
Eddas Cabanas was located 200m from Zicatela beach, the main tourist strip. Backpakers paradise there is a heap of accomodatoin along Zicatela beach and plenty of shops, cafes and resturants that are right accross the road from Mexican Pipeline.
The swell had dropped off a fair bit buy the time we made it to Puerto Escondido but Steve still had a couple of sessions out at Mexican Pipe. Arvo session 4-5ft light onshore no one out! Couple of 2-3ft sessions very crowded....Swell disappeared quickly - time to head inland.......

Posted by jessnsteve 15:02 Archived in Mexico Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Baja California Sur, Mexico

Tacos n cervezas, cacti n dust, cervezas n tacos......

sunny 28 °C

WOW! Mexico! Although we may have missed a few things by not driving, we got some great views of the Sea of Cortez and the Baja peninsular during our flight from San Diego to Los Cabos (the Cabos, which are San Jose Del Cabo & Cabo San Lucas). The flight enabled us to see all the huge mountain ranges and delta systems in between, loads of islands on both coasts, and numerous windy roads weaving through the ranges. Stepping off the plane we shed layers of clothing that are no longer required. The sun is as warm as the dust is dry.

Customs¿?¿, what customs, olah y adios, too easy and in no time we found ourselves just walking along the side of the road in search of a bus station. We find a road worker near the airport exit and Steve has a first crack at spanish "Disculpe senor, donde esta una autobus el stacion San Jose Del Cabo". Woohoo yeah smashed it! The response from senor was anyones guess but luckily for us he threw in a few hand guestures and we figured it was somewhere over a thataway!!?!?!?! Siga? A la deracha? Izquierda?

About 2km, a few carcases, and hundreds of cacti later we arrive to what looked like a bus stop. Sweet. Now we just need the right bus and to hand over the right money. Everyone was a bit nervous slash excited slash exhausted from the walk.

We finally get ourselves into San Jose and walk around with lonely planet open searching for street names which would lead us to accom. Bugger, not many street names available. Unable to find the hotel recommended by the lonely planet and with bags and boards getting heavy and Steves hip injury flaring up (did we mention that steve did his hip showing off doing stretches drunk in Hawaii??) we stumble across una hotel Posada Terranova. This will do! The bags are quickly dumped and we stroll the streets down to the closest beach as the sun sets over the ocean.

TACOS and CERVEZAS!!!!!!!! we have our first Mexican dinner in a restaurant overlooking the main street next to the town square, it was a celebration we´d made it to mexico, and it was much much warmer than california!

San Jose was a nice quiet little town but we decided to move on to Cabo San Lucas - a larger town with more infrastructure and resorts spilling out onto the beach. Gringos, and gringas, are everywhere! Again the bus ride was too easy as we met more locals happy to help out by getting us off at the right bus stop. Muchos Gracias Amigos, Adios!

This time we find accom as recommended by the Lonely Planet - una Hotel Olas. We are greated by the friendly grandfatherly owner, Senor Carlos, who had a wealth of information about the Baja and spoke some english. He is 85yro but looks like and gets around like he is 70. The big purple sedan beastie car out the front just had to be his. What a dude!

Once settled in Cabo we just cruised on the beach, had a fish taco here, a swim over there, talked up surf breaks with locals and yeah the vibe of being on holidays kicked into another gear. But it was totally weird seeing this massive, and I mean MASSIVE cruiser in the bay next to the headland of the beach we were swimming, looked like someone had photo shopped the moment. The bay must have been deep as the next day there were two cruisers....

Time to explore, we decide to rent a car, a chrysler voyager van from thrifty. The next couple of days we did day trips to Playa Cerritos and Playa Pelican Pt. Well that is what we called this little beach after sharing it with a lone Pelican who was very interested in us to say the least. While the boys scored their fare share of waves and frothed over the warm water, Jess put Anita through some training on the beach. No one seemed to exercise here and the girls got some classic looks - wtf are they doing???

In the Cabo we ate at ultra cheap taco joints e.g. $1AUD (10 peso) tacos and cervezas at Vernados, and also at nice mid range restaurants like Mariscos Mocambo which served up an assortment of delicious pescado dishes for $11AUD. The equivilant at home would have been something in the order of $30-35. And to top it off we had the coolest Mariachis do their favourite number for us! They carved it up and I think they put a little extra into it to impress the girls....

Time to move on again, we say our farewells to Grandfather Carlos and head norte to Todos Santos. SHITE STEVE´S POCKET KNIFE NOT AGAIN YOU IDIOT! Nearly lost it in Hawaii going through customs and now he has left it back at Hotel Olas. He cops a grilling from everyone, especially the miss´s, and we drive back to get it, along with the cervezas and limes we also left behind (160km round trip!).

Todos Santos saw us stay at Hotel Guluarte WHICH HAD A POOL hahaha you should have seen the girls faces light up and in no time the bikinis were flying around the room and we were just doin what you do on holidays - pool side beers in the sunset. Holidays just keep getting better and better and our beer guts keep on getting bigger and bigger....

We meet Mick and Amy poolside. Mick is a trippy lookin solar power guru from the states, and Amy, well she could have been his daughter, and we wereñt really sure where she fitted into the scheme but apparently they were travelling together and working on solar power systems in the area.

Whilst in Todos we visit Playa San Pedritos and San Pedro. San Pedritos has this classic right hand reef set up. Scored it fun 2-3ft but on the last day it was firing 3-4ft.

Jess overcomes her bout with a cold which has lasted since Hawaii. Steve also overcomes his slightly less severe cold but still has a severly sore hip. Anita is struck down with the runs and Chris looks like coming down with the plague. Yep we have all had our fair share of it! Nonetheless cheap tacos and poolside cervezas are still on the menu and its one sunny day after another. Since turning up into Mexico every day seems the same. What day is it?? Sunny. Dusty. Light to no wind. Coolish nights and warm to hot days. Not like home where the temp and winds vary nearly every day.

Wait for it, hows this feed we have one night - 19 tacos and 4 drinks for 200 peso (yep 20 bucks) and these tacos were loaded!!

After a few days of reasonably good surf, cruising the local art/jewellry/gift shops, and munching tacos a unanimous decision was made. Todos was the nicest place to date, and as sad as it was to leave, we were keen to keep on choogalin onto La Paz where La Carnaval was taking place.

Apparently a 2hr drive we arrive to La Paz in 50 mins. How fast were you driving Steve?? No one knew as for nearly the whole trip everyone was asleep neck titled, mouths wide open, drible down their cheeks...... The HWY between Todos and La Paz had some very long really straight sections. Entering La Paz from the south you cruise through an industrial area and you get the feel that this is the biggest city we have come across. Loads of cars. Somehow again we navigate through the grid and find our way to the Pension California. WOW what a cheapie with heaps of character. Chris has got a fever so we opt for seperate rooms this time. A tiny bit more expensive but worth it to avoid the plague. He looked in a bit of pain.

La Paz was a bit crazier than the previous locations. Yep heaps of cars, and HEAPS of people at the La Paz Carnaval which was on the main drag habourside. While in La Paz we did la Carnaval of a night and explored during the day.

Playa Balandra was mind blowingly beautiful. The beach wrapped around an expansive tidal bay of turquise azure waters and was flanked by typical Baja landscape - undulating desert hills covered with cacti. The tour to Isla de Espiritu was also mind blowing and highly recommended. We paid $55 AUD each for a day trip which saw us snorkle with a sea lion colony, not to mention a very diverse range of fish species aswell, visit isolated beaches of cultural indigenous indian significance, cruise through rock arcs and past surreal formations. One formation resembled a masked face and was rumoured to whistle (scream) when the wind blew a certain way.. It was totally worth every peso. The company is Punta Baja, our tour guide was an 18yro called Migueal, and you leave from Playa Pichillingue which is the next beach around from the Ferry. Words cant explain the beauty we experienced that day, hopefully the fotos do!

We bump into Micheal and Amy again and share a 750ml bottle a Biccardi which I might add cost just $8AUD. The last night of the Carnaval was absolutely crazy and nearly out of hand when a local was not so friendly this time and tried to pick a fight with Steve. Steve´s ninja aquatic merecat skills had this guy bamboozled and in all sorts of trouble i.e. he kept asking for a fight and Steve ignored him and he walked way.

So, with the sea lion snorkle, Playa Balandra beauty and craziness of La Paz Carnaval under our belts, it was time to move on. We hand the voyager back into thrifty, oops sorry about the scratches aahhh insurance will cover that sweet as, and hop onto TMC Ferrys, destination Mazatlan.

Posted by jessnsteve 10:59 Archived in Mexico Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Californian Dreaming

I wish the freezing cold temps were just a dream!

semi-overcast 13 °C

After our Hawaii fun in the sun we arrive in LAX Airport, Los Angeles at 3.00pmish and what a temperature shock! Daily highs of 14 to 16° and lows of around 6° which is freezing by our Aussie standards. We catch a bus to Venice Beach and a friendly local who had just finished up at the "Shooting Range" gave us directions to the Venice Beach Cotel. We check in and share a room with an American, Aiden from Arizona, who is looking for work in LA and playing around on the stock market since just turning 18. The previous day he made $400, too easy. The room was simple and clean and had the newest and cleanest bathroom we had seen on the trip! We take advantage of the free tea and coffee, buzz up, and explore.

We go for a wander from Venice Beach to Santa Monica along the boardwalk. In Venice it was a little scary. There are homeless people and weirdo "performers" (carnies) everywhere. First taste of America and it felt like everyone was hurting pretty bad from the economic crisis. We saw alot of people camping in their cars in carparks and from conversation heard that it was pretty hard to find a job and the cost of living was rising.

As soon as we walk out of Venice and into Santa Monica the sceanery, and vibe, changes dramaticaly, like from night to day. There are these awsome walking only, bike only sections with work out exercise areas that inlcuded bars and swing rings and grassy bits to work your bits. Santa Monica is very clean and upmarket with beautiful waterfront parks similar to Bondi (known by Americans as Boon-dye). The SM pier is HUGE! We bump into a police officer who was really friendly and advised us to get out of Venice because it is "crazy" and look for accom in Santa Monica. He had these 2 big f-off guns positioned between his seat and the front passenger which we got mighty close to when shaking his hand in return for his advice. Steve talked to a surfer on the beach who was running to the water to surf 1 ft slop and he said that the water temp was 10°, crazy over enthusiam for freezing lame surf! GET OUT THERE, not...Steve decides to wait it out for either bigger or warmer surf.

Taking onboard the advice received from the policeman we move on and check into the Santa Monica Hostel International, a very nice hostel with great kitchen and communal chill out areas and best of all, you can eat free breaky for 2hrs which included eggs, toast, juice, cereal, bagels, jelly (jam), tea and coffee. The next day we jumped on a bus and headed for down town LA to visit the Natural History Museum. LA is very grimey and not a particularly appealing place. However the Museum was fantastic. The building was orignially built in the 1920´s and was very grand - marble floors, hardwood and brass fittings with a spectaular main hall with a carved wooden cieling that featured the skeletons of T-Rex and Triceretops having a showdown! The Museum has the largest collection of Dinosaurs in the world. They also had exhibitions of stuffed animals in created habitats from all over the world, mainly northern America and Africa-Strange and amazing to look at. They also had a very comprehensive display of Minerals.

We had lunch outside of the museum in the sun overlooking a field where school kids were playing Gridiron. Hilarious to watch, the kids were only aged 8 to 12 and were pretty talented, weaving in and out of each other with it all to often ending with a dirt sandwich. The gun kids were smashing each other.

From Down Town LA we catch a Greyhound bus to San Diego which took a couple of hours. The bus was rank! It smelt like 1000 rotting greyhounds.....When we arrived we had already sorted where we were going to stay and how to get there but we spotted a couple with a surfboard that were looking as dazed as us so we went and had a chat to them. Turns out they are from, wait for it.... Newcastle Australia.... more specifically.... REDHEAD! So hows that, you cant go anywhere in the world without running into a fellow Redn. Chris and Anita join us and we head to the Ocean Beach Hostel, San Diego (about 30 mins by bus from Central San Diego).

The Ocean Beach Hostel has a nice charm. We stay in a double bed couples room which consited of 4 bunk beds pushed together to create double beds. After meeting a few of the inhabitants we quickly realise that the place is a bit of a nut house with several slightly crazy people, not the typical backpacker types you find in hostels. The Hostel is located on the main street of Ocean Beach San Diego´and it also provides free breaky every morn and also free dinner 2 nights of the week. We scored spag bol the night we arrived! Ocean Beach is a crusty tripped out surfing villiage right next to the beach complete with resident homeless, locally run shops, antique stores, many surf shops and tons of bars.

We checked out the Sunset Cliffs, a 20 min walk south from the Hostel. The coastline comprised of rocky cliffs of up to 50 metres high, lined with mexican style mansions. Large grey pelicans and gulls glided close to the coast line and fed on schools of fish in the ocean below. Squirrells played on the cliffs darting in and out of low lying shrubs. Steve was amazed at the amount of surf breaks along this stretch. There were reefs every 100 to 200 metres with many different lefts and rights to choose from if you were brave enough to climb down the rocky cliffs to get to the cold water! We were also told that it is not wise to surf until 72 hours after rain due to the contaminated run off from San Diego.

The next day Steve bared the cold and went for the dawn patrol out Sunset Cliffs, ambient temps were about 8° with the water temp only slightly warmer at 13 to 14°. He said it was as easy as just walk along, pick ya reef break, some more crowded than others, then find your own access path or follow a local down the cliff!

Other things that come to mind whilst writing were the bus services in CA were very easy to use and efficient. Maps of all routes were available on the bus via handout brochures. AND there were voice automated announcements of all stops which made it very usefull for out of towners!

Anyway, we have enough of the Ocean Beach Hostel nut house and cold temps after 3 days and plan with Anita and Chris the best way to get into sunny warm Mexico. A trip to the airport and back, several hrs on the internet, and several discussions with locals, we book a flight with Alaskan Airlines from San Diego to Los Cabos for around $160 USD each plus $50 for boards. With limited spanish, and limited info on the border crossing at Tijuana and transport down the Baja, we decided it was safer to fly than drive or bus it. Plus it is around 26hrs non stop travelling bus from Tijuana to Los Cabos and cost about the same as flying. BAJA HERE WE COME!!!

Posted by jessnsteve 11:11 Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

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